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A response from Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), to frequently asked questions about the agency’s use of force, internal review process, and commitment to transparency.

Introduction

Maintaining an open dialogue between law enforcement and the communities we serve is so important, especially now. And it is something that the PSP has been focused on long before current events thrust the issue into the public spotlight.

The Pennsylvania State Police Heritage Affairs Section (HAS) is primarily responsible for training our members on implicit bias, building relationships within historically underserved communities, and preventing and responding to hate/bias-related crimes. Training begins during a cadet’s time at the Academy and continues throughout their career with the department. HAS also works with municipal police departments throughout the commonwealth on the same issues.

More information on HAS is available here, including a video that introduces the section commander, Lt. William Slaton.
Part of what Lt. Slaton and his team do is build relationships within the community and establish the lines of communication before a critical incident. There is so much more to community policing than what can be articulated here, but the bottom line is that the Pennsylvania State Police Call of Honor reminds troopers that it is our sworn duty “to be of service to anyone who may be in danger or distress.” That includes the public, victims of crimes, and suspects.
We are not always perfect but by written regulation and organizational culture, we have zero tolerance for any type of disparate treatment or bias-based policing.

For more information on the Heritage Affairs Section, please email RA-pspheritageaffair@pa.gov. If you know of any opportunities for PSP to engage in-person with people in your community (business organizations, religious groups, schools, etc.), troopers are available to talk about what we at the Pennsylvania State Police are all about and listen to the community’s feedback. We have received the questions below from several memebers of the community. We are answering them here, publicly, in the interest of full disclosure and transparency. 

Colonel Robert Evanchick
Commissioner
Pennsylvania State Police 

FAQs

Are troopers trained to de-escalate altercations by using peaceful conflict resolution strategies?

Yes, PSP cadets receive specific instruction on de-escalation techniques. One training block is entitled "Identifying Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness in the Community/Using Listening and De-escalation Techniques" and is taught by an independent subject matter expert. 

The department has recently incorporated additional communications/de-escalation training into cadet curriculum. This course begins building a cadet’s communication skills early on in training and culminates with assessments of a cadet’s communication/de-escalation skills during scenario-based exercises. The teachings focus on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, decision-making skills, ways to display empathy, improving active and reflective listening skills, multi-cultural awareness, and implicit bias issues.

Training continues throughout a trooper’s career with mandatory in-service training each year. In-service training covers a variety of topics. In 2018, all troopers received a block of instruction on practical de-escalation. Earlier this year, 30 bureau instructors received instructor-level training in the Law Enforcement Active Diffusion Strategies (LEADS) program, which is approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Are troopers forbidden from using carotid restraints (chokeholds, strangleholds, etc.) and hog-tying methods?

The Pennsylvania State Police does not now, nor have we ever taught or endorsed vascular restraint techniques or “chokeholds.” Cadets are advised that such techniques (or even strikes to the head/neck area) may constitute lethal force and are only justifiable when the threshold is met.

The Pennsylvania State Police continuously reviews and updates its policies, regulations, and manuals. Department leadership will use lessons learned from police response to ongoing civil unrest, in both Pennsylvania and throughout the country, to help ensure use-of-force training continues to be in accordance with Pennsylvania law and current law enforcement best practices.

Are troopers required to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force? Will officers be reprimanded if they fail to intervene?

The Pennsylvania State Police Call of Honor reminds troopers that it is our sworn duty, “to be of service to anyone who may be in danger or distress.”  Troopers are taught to render aid as necessary when any level of force is utilized. A stringent disciplinary architecture exists within the Pennsylvania State Police to investigate, adjudicate and mete out discipline in response to allegations of misconduct; which could include failure to intervene. All such inquiries are fact-specific.

Are troopers forbidden from shooting at moving vehicles?

Our agency’s public safety mandate prevents the outright prohibition of shooting at or from a moving vehicle. By regulation, these actions may only be taken as a last resort in limited situations. 

Is there a clear and enforced use-of-force continuum that details what weapons and force are acceptable in a wide variety of civilian-police interactions?

Troopers are trained to weigh the totality of circumstances when making decisions related to use of force. These circumstances include the severity of the crime at issue and whether the subject poses an immediate threat to the safety of others. Members of the dedicated Use of Force Unit within the Bureau of Training and Education serve as the department’s subject matter experts in this area. They continually evaluate applicable statutes, policy, and procedure related to use of force. PSP does have a use of force continuum to provide guidance to troopers on what level of force is appropriate in a given situation. 

Are troopers required to exhaust every other possible option before using excessive force?

Troopers are not permitted to use “excessive force.” They are trained to use the amount of force reasonably believed to be necessary under the totality of circumstances of a specific incident or event. 

Are troopers required to give a verbal warning to civilians before drawing their weapon?

If justified by the totality of circumstances, deadly force may be used only after some warning has been given, when feasible. 

Are troopers required to report each time they threaten to or use force on civilians?

Except for general maintenance, storage, or authorized training, troopers shall not draw or exhibit a firearm unless circumstances create a strong reasonable belief it may be necessary to use the weapon in conformance with department policy. Use of force incidents are entered into the department’s Internal Affairs database.

Are troopers thoroughly vetted to ensure that they do not have a history with abuse, racism, xenophobia, homophobia / transphobia, or discrimination?

Every PSP cadet is the subject of an extensive background check, performed by a trained criminal investigator, prior to appointment to the Academy. 

The Pennsylvania State Police has one of the most rigorous application and background screening processes in the nation. The process includes written and oral examinations; a polygraph screening; a psychological examination including two different test batteries which screen for biases; medical examination; and evaluation of any tattoos suggestive of bias or associations with hate groups.

Are troopers trained to perform and seek necessary medical action after using force?

Yes, troopers are trained to render aid and call for medical assistance after a use of force. 

Is there an early intervention system enforced to correct officers who use excessive force?

PSP was one of the first agencies in the country to introduce an Early Intervention Program (EIP), which is designed to identify troopers who may need additional training and/or supervision. The primary goal of the EIP is to stop potential misconduct before it occurs. 

Complaints against troopers related to excessive force or other misconduct are investigated by the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) of the Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards. Individual disciplinary actions are confidential and vary based on the nature of the complaint and outcome of the internal investigation. 

What can I do, as a concerned citizen, to encourage progressive police policies within the PSP?

The number one thing you can do as a citizen is to stay involved and keep the lines of communication open, even after current events fade from the headlines. In addition to the work done by the Heritage Affairs Section, your local Community Services Officer is available to speak to community organizations, businesses, and religious groups on a wide variety of topics. There is no charge for this service. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to them directly

The PSP strives to be as transparent as possible, while also respecting the privacy of the people with whom our troopers come into contact. PSP has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) since 1993. Accreditation facilitates the creation, verification and maintenance of policies and procedures, via voluntary compliance with a body of performance standards. CALEA agencies continually self-evaluate policies and procedures to maintain compliance with over 450 applicable standards. They submit their policies, procedures, personnel, installations and equipment to CALEA on-site inspections every three years.

In addition to CALEA accreditation, the Pennsylvania State Police also participates in the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (PLEAC) version of accreditation. The program, developed by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police, is similar to CALEA and began in 2002 when the Department was among the first three agencies accredited.